Letter: Howard tilts the scales of justice

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The Independent Online
Sir: Certain implications of the proposed change in categorising criminal offences appear to have been overlooked hitherto ("Howard under fire over plans to curb jury trial", 28 February; letter, 6 March). If offences are down-graded to being triable by magistrates only, with no option to the crown court, the following consequences will flow.

The advance disclosure rules will no longer apply to a summary-only offence and the prosecution will be under no obligation to provide advance information of the case against the defendant. Recent high-profile cases have clearly indicated the dangers inherent in inadequate disclosure to the defence, and it would be no comfort to a defendant facing trial to be told that the offences involve "only" a theft from a shop or "only" a minor assault if he or she feels aggrieved at the result.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain legal aid to represent defendants charged with summary-only offences. Each legal aid application is determined not only on the defendant's means but on the test of the "interests of justice", and many courts will routinely refuse legal aid on the basis that the perceived danger to the defendant is not high enough to warrant its grant.

PETER RHYS JONES

Solicitor

Carmarthen

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